So what exactly do I mean by unanticipated guests? I mean, we all probably expect a child to probably arrive with little to no possessions. Maybe they need a shower or bath. But there are actually a number of things a child may arrive with which are unanticipated (or at the very least undesirable). And since I’m covering them here, hopefully they won’t catch you off guard should they ever show up at your door!
At the risk of stating the obvious, bugs are the first thing that probably come to mind. And though you might not be someone who is terribly comfortable with bugs, as a foster parent you might, on occasion, have the “opportunity” to deal with them.
Bedbugs and lice are, unfortunately, not terribly uncommon in the world of foster care. When children are housed in unclean living conditions, or are homeless, hygiene can be tricky. So upon their removal, they might have parasites with which you need to deal.
(As an aside please note: bedbugs and lice can be extremely hard to get rid of, so please be mindful NOT to judge the biological parents for it. Also, I have known many a hygienic family who has gotten bedbugs or lice, so lack of hygiene is not always the issue.)
Also note that just because a child has been in your home for a while does not mean you are in the clear. If they are doing visits with the biological family, they may bring such things back to your home. So just a heads up.
The good news, lice CAN be fairly easy to treat IF you are attentive and diligent; and you catch it early if at all possible. That said, I would recommend having a lice kit on hand, in case you take a placement which needs to be treated immediately. I would also encourage you to house any soft items (including but not limited to blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, etc) in a plastic bag in the garage for several days (some experts say as long as 2 weeks). Lice cannot live very long without a host (aka human) to live on.
The same treatment goes for bedbugs, although they are heartier than lice; adult bedbugs, for instance, can live up to a year without a host. They are also smaller and can hide in cracks and small crevices more easily. Because of these two facts, they are a little more difficult to eradicate and may require an outside company to help with treatment. So don’t beat yourself up if you need to bring in reinforcements for that!
That said, if kids with lice or bedbugs arrive with anything of their own, it will almost certainly be infested with the pest..however that child will more than likely insist on sleeping with it, regardless. In order to give that child the comfort he needs, especially on his first night away from home, a quick fix you can use is to throw it in the dryer on a full cycle on high heat. Granted, if the child is infested, the stuffed animal, blanket, pillow, etc won’t remain clean for long, so be prepared to continually treat that item until the child is lice-free or bedbug-free.
Now bugs aren’t the only thing that a child may have which you need to treat. Our son, for instance, came to us with a raging case of diaper rash. That doesn’t seem horrible, except that we had to make several trips to the doctor about it, use special medication for it, and the poor sweet baby would cry every time we had to wipe him. It was horrible and lasted for weeks. Honestly, the worst part was that his biological mother tried to pin it on us, but fortunately since we’d picked him up at the hospital, they knew he had it when he arrived. (So just a note here: with an infant or toddler, check that kind of thing ASAP with a medical professional or social worker as witness so it can be documented that you are not the cause of the diaper rash).
Other issues in a similar vein can include but are not limited to:
• severely-tangled/matted hair,
• severe eczema, and
• cradle cap/dandruff/dry & flaky scalp.
These are clearly not earth-shattering by any means, and may not even require the help of a medical professional, but they are things you need to address immediately…and were not necessarily on your radar.
And lastly, I do want to mention that sometimes a child arrives with undesirable things which are not bugs and are not physically “on their person” but you may not have expected. And at the same time, you must deal with it.
For this final portion, I reached out to some fellow foster moms to see what kinds of things they had experienced; here is what they shared:
• I’ve had cigarette smoke-stained clothes that are so hard to get clean and get the smell out. Washing and re-washing items is the only remedy, and even then the smell will sometimes linger.
• I had a baby last year in which Mom went into the hospital and DCS gave me her entire purse with the baby’s diaper bag! Her wallet, bills, medicine, and cell phone.
• I had a social worker allow bio mom to send every single piece of clothing the children had, including clothes that were too big and out of season! The biggest issue was having to wash all of it and store it.
• I had a bio mom send multiple packs of thawed breast milk, with no dates, but expected me to use only that to feed the baby.
• We had kids who came with bags of old toys and clothes…they were very dirty and such a random assortment. But I had to sort it and catalog it for DCS.
To be clear, I don’t share these things to scare you, but to better prepare you for the possibility, so you are at least aware that it can happen with any placement. If you foster for any length of time, you will surely run across at least one of these (or something similar), as it is (unfortunately), par for the course.
If nothing else, simply expect the unexpected.